A little heartbreak can make the heart stronger, research says

KD Suarez
A little "heartbreak" can be good for your heart.

MANILA, Philippines – A little “heartbreak” can be good for your heart.

Scientists at the Imperial College London found out that a condition that causes temporary heart failure due to severe stress could actually protect it from excess levels of adrenaline.

Commonly called the “broken heart syndrome,” Takotsubo cardiomyopath is a condition in which patients, usually older women, experience symptoms akin to a heart attack.

However, instead of the coronary artery blockage commonly associated with a heart attack, the organ appears “balloon-like,” due to the heart not contracting properly. It is also sometimes called “stress cardiomyopathy” or “apical ballooning syndrome.”

The other parts of the heart, meanwhile, functions normally or works more forcefully, according to the Mayo Clinic.

This condition usually happens when people experience severe emotional stress and very high levels of adrenaline are present, such as when a loved one dies.

“Adrenaline’s stimulatory effect on the heart is important for helping us get more oxygen around the body in stressful situations, but it can be damaging if it goes on for too long,” Professor Sian Harding of the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London was quoted as saying.

Most of the time, patients with this condition are at first thought to have had a heart attack, but they fully recover within days or weeks, compared to those who experienced a real heart attack.

Adrenaline’s pathway

Imperial scientists simulated the Takotsubo cardiomyopathy in anesthetized rats by injecting them with high doses of adrenaline, and they observed that the heart muscle contractions were suppressed at the bottom part of the organ.

“The researchers found that these rats were protected from an otherwise fatal overstimulation of the heart, indicating that adrenaline acts through a different pathway from usual, and that this switch protects the heart from toxic levels of adrenaline,” the university said in a press release on Wednesday, June 27.

“In patients with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, adrenaline works in a different way and shuts down the heart instead. This seems to protect the heart from being overstimulated,” Harding added.

The researchers also studied drugs that could help in addressing the condition, and they found out that some current heart medication can reproduce or enhance it, while a drug called Levosimendan has a beneficial effect due to its avoidance of adrenaline receptor pathways to stimulate the organ, Imperial said.

The results of the study were published in the journal Circulation on Monday, June 25.

“Insights from this work show that the illness may be protecting them from more serious harm. We’ve identified a drug treatment that might be helpful, but the most important thing is to recognize the condition, and not to make it worse by giving patients with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy more adrenaline or adrenaline-like medications,” Dr Alexander Lyon, co-author of the study, was quoted as saying.

“The study also provides new insights into how the heart may protect itself from stress, which opens up exciting avenues of exploration for research,” Dr Shannon Amolis of the British Heart Foundation said.

“We must remember though that this is a study in rats, and the findings need to be confirmed in people before we can be sure of their relevance to patients,” Amolis added. – Rappler.com

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